Thursday, April 16, 2009

Hayai Zushi

Have you ever thought of a killer idea that might just be the next big thing? Drive-thru sushi is something that only a few brave restaurateurs have tried but seldom have succeeded at. To me the concept is brilliant. Sushi could really be the ultimate fast food. It’s healthy, delicious, comes in perfect bite sized pieces with a wide range of options and varieties, and has a loyal following. I wouldn’t hesitate to frequent an inexpensive drive-thru/fast food sushi restaurant. That is – if it was good.

Hayai Zushi coins itself as an innovative drive-thru (or dine-in) sushi spot. The concept is the brainchild of co-owners and business partners Keith Guevara and Peggi Whiting. Whiting trained with sushi master chefs in Japan and brought her newly acquired skills back with her to Utah. In the late 80s Whiting founded the first Ichiban restaurant in Park City, a restaurant that lives on today in its latest reincarnation in downtown Salt Lake City (Whiting hasn’t been involved with the operation since the late 90s). Upon reading the bio of Whiting and taking close inspection of their cool website, I had extremely high hopes for Hayai Zushi. Not only was the concept cool, but the fast-food restaurant had some immediate “street cred” (that’s ‘street credibility’ for those not cool enough to catch the lingo) given Whiting’s training and history with Ichiban.

A quick glance at the menu made my enthusiasm slightly wane. The only sushi offered was of the maki roll variety (raw fish served with rice and seaweed) but as I scrolled down the menu it became apparent that most of the rolls actually contained cooked products. The so-called “Sake Roll” is made up of cooked salmon and avocado. The flavors weren’t bad but cooked salmon tastes very different than raw. Cooking salmon takes away that cool, clean, and fresh taste that one usually associates with sushi. Many of the other menu items followed suit using deep-fried shrimp tempura or cooked crab in lieu of raw ingredients. They even have a “Hawaiian Luau Roll” consisting of grilled spam teriyaki. Um, okay so maybe not all menu items here could be billed as healthy fast-food. That said, the only raw fish present throughout the entire menu is any item that contains tuna. The quintessential roll – the spicy tuna roll – was…just okay. The tuna was mushy and lacked some brightness. However, there was a nice spicy kick that I did enjoy. Hayai Zushi also has a variety of specialty rolls. Basically all of these rolls are versions of their existing maki rolls that are then battered in tempura and deep-fried. I guess deep-frying is their specialty?

In addition to the sushi menu, Hayai Zushi also offers a series of rice bowls such as chicken teriyaki, tofu teriyaki, spicy tuna over cucumber and rice, and Oyako (a chicken and egg combo served over rice, slightly sweetened). In a word: unimpressive. Actually in a word: gross. The chicken teriyaki came in a bowl that looked like it had just been taken out of a lean cuisine frozen t.v. dinner box and was then nuked before it hit the table. The food sadly tasted the way it looked. The chicken was dry and was paired with an odd assortment of vegetables (edamame, corn, brocolli, carrots, peppers) that were clearly out of a frozen bag of mixed veggies. The chicken and veg mix was served over a scoop of white rice that was drenched – and I mean drenched – in an overly sweet, thick, and syrupy teriyaki sauce. Every bite dripped of the sauce and made for a very sweet, soggy dinner. I guess in the end it saves you some money. No need for dessert here – apparently it comes on top of your entree.

It’s obvious that Whiting and Guevara are trying to cater to a demographic that might not be your ‘average sushi lover’ since most of the sushi on Hayai Zushi’s menu isn’t even raw and the Japanese style bowls mostly consist of some version of teriyaki (an American construct but popular with the masses). They’ve also taken the fast-food mentality to heart, twisting the pristine idea of sushi into a horrible caricature; kind of like what McDonald’s did to the American cheeseburger or what Taco Bell did to Mexican food. I think Guevara and Whiting may have miscalculated a bit. I would say the average sushi eater expects a certain level of value, the right texture, and certainly the right flavor. I don’t see any of that here at Hayai Zushi. The next time I’m in the mood for fast-food I think I might just pass up Hayai Zushi and see what the next burger joint down the street is peddling…better yet, I think I’ll take my time to sit down at a not-so-quite-fast-food Japanese restaurant where the sushi is of higher quality…and where I know it will be worth the wait. Fast-food just isn’t worth it if it isn’t good food.

Hayai Zushi ~ Salt Lake City, Utah

307 West 600 South

Co-owners Keith Guevara and Peggi Whiting


HayaiZushi on Urbanspoon